In 1997, the memorial and educational center at the House of the Wannsee Conference organized its first seminar for people training to become booksellers. The students already knew a great deal about Nazi-era activities, like bookburning and exile literature. In the seminar, the students considered issues such as who might have become a perpetrator or collaborator and how a profession places ideological fetters on its members.
At the House of the Wannsee Conference Memorial and Educational Site, a focal educational point is the development of seminars tailored for professionals and thos still in training for specific occupations in both the public sector and private enterprise. For librarians, seminars have been held on policies affecting literature in the Third Reich. The following project was organized on this basis for those training to enter the commercial book trade.
The students were alerted to the experimental nature of the program, as this was our first attempt to develop a specific program for booksellers. In an introductory presentation, the students were informed about the approach of the House of the Wannsee Conference Memorial and Educational Site and how we use the historical context to teach a variety of occupational and professional groups.
This educational concept is also linked to commentary on the historical site [see.Documents] where the seminar takes place. The core of our approach is to examine the mechanisms for the social exclusion of entire population groups and how the necessary assent to implement these policies was obtained. From this viewpoint, the group collectively considers such issues as who might have become a perpetrator or collaborator and how members of a profession could allow themselves to be ideologically fettered. It should be no surprise that people do not at first consider members of their own profession - booksellers in this case - to have been integral parts of Nazi policy. Nevertheless, from the introduction and association with the House of the Wannsee Conference to the political consequences of the "final solution," a certain amount of suspense, as well as increased interest, developed on the part of the students in what would result from this focus on their own occupational field.
On the project day, the group consisted of 18 apprentices in their third year of training to become booksellers. These apprentices were completing their training in various types of bookstores: in well-known large bookstores, in chain stores, and even in small bookshops located in subway stations. Three-quarters of the students had completed their academic high school final examinations. The class already had excellent background knowledge on the Nazi era, since they had studied "book burnings" and "exile literature" in the classroom. About one-third of the students already knew something about the history of the House of the Wannsee Conference. Half of the group had grown up in eastern Germany, in the former German Democratic Republic, and had attended school there.
All of the students were personally interested in literature and books, which was reflected in their sophisticated contributions in later seminar group discussions. Some of the students planned to enter academic studies after completing their apprenticeships.
To give a sense of the period under discussion, we used the 30-minute film "Deutsche Literatur im Exil" ["German Literature in Exile"], directed by B. Fuhrmann in 1985, as an introduction. It includes many eyewitness accounts of the situation of German publishers in exile, especially those in Amsterdam. Among other issues, the film focuses on the publishers' economic problems, such as deciding on the size of editions to be published and the marketing of literature produced abroad that had been banned by the Nazis. A major problem for publishers in exile was bringing banned German-language literature to its potential readers, i.e., either by smuggling it into Germany or by selling it in other European countries.
Course of the Project
After an introductory discussion and an explanation of what was expected of the.participants, the history of the Wannsee Villa and its evolution to a memorial and educational site were explained [see Documents]. Selected topics associated with the historical events of the Wannsee Conference, the role of perpetrators, and the conference's consequences for the genocide of European Jews were outlined during a visit to the permanent exhibition.
The film and the discussion following it offered the chance to discuss the political situation in Germany after 1933 and its consequences for nonconformist publishers, as well as their difficulties in emigrating and in marketing books while in exile. The various topics available for study in work groups, including the possibilities for more serious study, were explained in detail. The source materials were distributed without group assignments in order to encourage explorational learning and the development of independent questions. The selected texts and documents took the perspectives of both victims and perpetrators into account [see Documents].
In the subsequent plenary session that was held (about two hours later), the views of all the individual participants contributed, mosaic-like, to a broad overview and critical analysis of the situation of booksellers and those involved in the book trade.
Where appropriate, the experience of state censorship in the German Democratic Republic was also included. The participants themselves decided how to present the results of their work. They were encouraged to be creative in their presentations, using large-format paper sheets, collages, or self-made overhead projections.
There is a rich selection of material in the archives, as, for instance, such specialized journals as:
"Der Buchhändler im neuen Reich" ["The Bookseller in the New Reich"]
"Der deutsche Buchhandlungsgehilfe" ["The German Bookseller Assistant"]
"Bericht der Reichsschule des Deutschen Buchhandels zu Leipzig über das Schuljahr 1936/37" ["Annual Report of the Reich School for the German Book Trade, Leipzig, Academic Year 1936-37"]
"Bücherkunde: Organ des Amtes für Schrifttumspflege" ["Books: Journal of the Office for the Promotion of Publication"]
The wide variety of publications available enabled seminar participants to discover previously unknown sources, to awaken their curiosity, and to discover their own profession under the conditions of Nazi dictatorship.
Background materials received by all seminar participants included:
"Medienchronik Drittes Reich" ["Media Chronicle of the Third Reich"] (Frei, Norbert; Schmitz, Johannes 1989), which describes the connection between various Nazi institutions that prohibited freedom of speech after 1933 and the proscription of Jewish and dissident publishers and authors from the book trade.
"Das Sofortprogramm des deutschen Buchhandels" ["The Immediate Program of German Book Trade"], from: "Börsenblatt für den Deutschen Buchhandel" ["German Book Trade Journal"], May 3, 1933
The 1935 questionnaire for acceptance into the German Booksellers Trade Group Association in 1935 (Benecke, 1995). This questionnaire demands proof of undiluted Aryan ancestry back to the year 1800.
Work in small groups required the presence of an attentive facilitator so that questions could be rapidly answered and library assistance as well as reference material provided.
Topics for the Work Groups
Work Group 1: Compulsory measures against the Berlin bookstore "Amelang"
Strategies for survival
Work Group 2: The profile of booksellers in Nazi Germany in September 1938
Redefinition of their role in society, appeals to exclude Jewish and dissident colleagues, and changes in the way booksellers were trained
Work Group 3: Purges in the book trade
The period after the book burnings, Gestapo and police reports on searching bookstores, antiquarian shops and lending libraries throughout Germany; "Poison on Parental Bookshelves" - appeal in the student newspaper "Hilf mit" ["Help Out"] to spy on parents
Work Group 4: Children's literature as a medium
Includes recommendations to booksellers on establishing standards; gender-specific materials and racism, with specific examples
Work Group 5: The "front-line bookstore"
An integral aspect of war for cultural segregation in occupied countries; reports of so-called "front-line bookstores" in northern France and Paris.